Abigail Harrison, News Editor
The JSU American Democracy Project hosted a remembrance panel on Thursday, September 9 to reflect on stories of 9/11 as the 20th anniversary of the attacks approaches.
The panel consisted of eight community speakers, ranging in age and backgrounds. Though each individual has a unique story of the events from that tragic day, they share a patriotism to their country that was strengthened after September 11, 2001.
The panel was planned and moderated by Dr. Lori Owens, professor of political science at JSU. Dr. Owens put the panel together in order to keep the memories of that day alive.
“I know what impact it had on the campus then,” Owens said. “I felt it would be appropriate for us to revisit that and to bring a new generation of people and inform them of that day.”
The university was honored to be able to host this event at the Stone Center Performing Arts Theatre. JSU President Dr. Killingsworth understands the importance of retelling these stories of history, especially to younger generations who were not alive to witness the attacks.
Dr. Killingsworth referred to the significance of the tagline 9/11: Never Forget. “It’s important for us not to forget,” Killingsworth said. “While we still have people here that lived it, it’s important to bring them back to campus so that we can remember.”
The first speaker was Dr. William Meehan, who was the university’s president at the time of the 9/11 attacks. When news broke, Dr. Meehan knew his responsibility was to assure all students of their safety and to keep the community calm.
Despite the uncertainty and fear, “We were gonna carry on with our mission of educating the students that we had and serving those here in northeast Alabama,” Meehan said. Many of the panelists commented on how his leadership kept the student body unified.
Dr. Meehan also represented the story of Pearl Williams, who could not attend the event because she is recovering from COVID-19 and pneumonia. Mrs. Williams is a beloved member of the Jacksonville community and holds an especially emotional story of that day in her heart.
Mrs. Williams lost her son, Army Major Dwayne Williams, in the 9/11 Pentagon attack. It took ten days for his death to be confirmed, and it was absolute agony for a mother to wait not knowing if she would ever see her son again. However, according to Dr. Meehan, “She is at peace with his passing, and she gives that credit to her strong faith in God and her church family.”
Another panelist, Ben Cunningham, remembers feeling one word that day- frustrated. Mr. Cunningham was the editor-in-chief of The Chanticleer on September 11. Technology was not like it is today, so information moved slowly. In such a confusing time, this was frustrating to Mr. Cunningham, whose job was to get information out to students.
In his speech he acknowledged his appreciation for the 2001 staff members of The Chanticleer. Everyone came together to redo that week’s issue of the newspaper to write new articles covering information on the attacks. Their original coverage of the events can still be seen in The Chanticleer archives.
Miranda Killingsworth Pate was the next to tell her story. On September 11, Mrs. Pate was serving as the SGA President at JSU. She remembered being told of the news, and her concerns immediately went to her brother, Dr. Killingsworth, who was in New York City on a trip. Fortunately, Mrs. Pate found out that he left the previous night and was safe.
Despite being scared of what would happen next, Mrs. Pate stayed strong as a student leader. The SGA raised $5,000 for the Red Cross, hosted blood drives, and held prayer vigils.
What sticks with her most was how the student body came together regardless of backgrounds.
Pate’s words were powerful and emotional when she said, “It didn’t matter what organization you were in. We were Americans.”
Dr. Robert Hayes was also a member of SGA at the time, and he reflected on the leadership he saw that day. He recounted the stages of processing the events- silence, sadness, and then strategy.
Dr. Hayes felt comfort in knowing that he was not alone because he saw the community congregate to support one another. He specifically noted seeing the community pray together and the effect that had on his spirits.
“We found a peace in community, and that was so meaningful,” Hayes said.
David McPherson (COL. Ret.) spoke next. Mr. McPherson was in his twenty sixth year of service when 9/11 happened. He was serving as the Manager and Deputy Installation Commander of the Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center when he received news of a plane crash at the World Trade Center.
When Mr. McPherson realized that it was a terrorist attack against the nation, he was angry. However, he had to push his emotions aside and respond quickly by pulling resources to assist and support the community. His main priority was ensuring the security of Fort McClellan.
Next, speaker LTC Travis J. Easterling focused his story on the post-9/11 impact from an active duty military perspective. After September 11, many individuals enlisted and were deployed to fight the War on Terror. LTC Easterling commissioned as an Aviation Officer in 2004 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005. He told stories of his deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq at the height of both wars.
LTC Easterling is a husband and father of two children. Spending years overseas is a lot of missed time and memories away from family members, but he is thankful for the educators in his children’s lives that helped support them while he was deployed.
Angie McPherson was the final speaker of the panel. As an educator, it was her duty to serve her country by working with children. Mrs. McPherson enjoyed working with Department of Defense Schools, which serve children from military backgrounds, because she holds a special place in her heart for military families.
She worked as the Principal of a Department of Defense School on Fort Benning at the time of 9/11. Mrs. McPherson remembered the impact the attacks had on the military families at her school. There were constant deployments, soldiers were killed in action, and children lost their parents.
Mrs. McPherson considers it her honor to have been able to serve those families. The impacts of 9/11 and working closely with military families has given her an unbreakable sense of patriotism.
“When I see that flag fly, I am so proud to say that’s my country,” McPherson said.
At the end of the panel, the speakers were asked how September 11 changed them, and they all gave answers with one common theme — unity. The attacks showed them all what it means to come together, serve the country, and be an American.
The speakers of the panel would love to see a sense of community happen in the country again.
“As a nation it’s time for us to come back together. We want to see the patriotism. We want to see the togetherness we experienced post 9/11,” Dr. Killingsworth said.
The remembrance panel represents the significance of telling these important stories of history so they can live on for generations. On this 20th Anniversary of 9/11, the community should take time to reflect on the stories from that day, remember those who lost their lives protecting this country, and understand the importance of being an American.